For many people, the thought of performance management conjures images of corporate red tape, difficult conversations and improvement plans. In reality, however, performance management is as simple as achieving agreed-upon goals — something that is important for both individual and organizational success.

If it’s that simple, why does it sometimes feel so hard? More importantly, how can organizations, leaders, managers and employees equip themselves to succeed in this critical, yet potentially daunting, function?

The answer is to make it ongoing and focus on performance development over performance management. Here’s a guide for managers on how to transform their performance management process into a performance development process:

Coaching Conversations

Job Description: Start Here

The first step toward successful performance and ongoing development is clarifying roles and responsibilities. Begin by reviewing job descriptions with each team member.

Have a direct report without a job description? Work with your human resources (HR) team to develop one, or, if possible, start by cocreating this document with your direct report. This collaboration can lead to increased buy-in and engagement and a better understanding of expectations.

Work at a startup where job descriptions change daily? Acknowledge this reality with your team member, make the job description a living document, and create a structure for revisiting and refining the role in a way that supports organizational needs.

Goal Setting: Focus

Beyond general roles and responsibilities, each team member should have goals toward which he or she is striving. Whether you use the SMART framework, objectives and key results (OKRs), or key performance indicators (KPIs), be sure all of your team members know what success looks like in their role for the short and long terms.

It’s even better if these individual goals align to team goals and if those team goals, in turn, align to organizational goals. To help employees have the greatest impact, heed Simon Sinek’s advice: Start with why. If team members understand how their individual goals support the company as a whole, they will be able to see the value their work contributes and be more engaged in their day-to-day activities.

Development Plan: Design a Path Toward Growth

Here’s where the shift from management to development begins. Work with your team members to create individual development plans that clearly articulate the support they need to achieve success as outlined in their job description and goals. Consider including the following elements in the plan:

  • Top skills: What are your three strongest skills in relation to your current position?
  • Areas of development: In what two or three areas do you want to grow in order to excel in your current job, meet your goals and/or advance to the next level?
  • Development activities: What activities will you participate in to grow in those areas, and are they specific, attainable and relevant?
  • Expected outcome: How will you measure each development activity?
  • By when: When will you complete these activities?

One-on-one Meetings: Provide Support and Course-correct Along the Way

Have regular check-ins with each team member at a cadence determined by the situation and person. For example, a biweekly meeting may work for a senior team member with whom you’ve worked for a while, but you’ll probably want to schedule weekly one-on-ones with new team members, employees who aren’t meeting expectations and anyone who works in a different location than you.

Your direct report should drive the agenda, but be sure to regularly discuss the following topics:

  • Results. Discuss both wins and lessons learned.
  • Current challenges: Ask how you can help.
  • Development activities: Check in on the development plan.
  • Feedback: Provide and request it.
  • Gratitude: Even a quick “thank you” goes a long way.

Frame this discussion within the team member’s job description and goals, and be sure to return to them to reinforce role clarity and priorities.

Performance Review: Assess Outcomes

This step is the formal assessment of how a team member’s work output has progressed toward or, ideally, achieved the agreed-upon goals.

Your organization likely has a process in place for performance assessment, and managers may have little power to effect change here. It may be a single review by the manager; a 180-degree approach that provides upward and downward feedback; or a 360-degree assessment that includes input from direct reports, peers and managers. Regardless of the structure, your role as the manager remains the same: Ensure that this process takes place for your team members and, importantly, that there are no surprises in the feedback you provide.

If you’ve followed the steps laid out here and have had ongoing conversations focused on development and goals, this step is simply documentation of what you’ve been discussing throughout the year.

Coaching Conversations: Use a Growth Mindset Approach

The golden thread throughout ongoing performance development is the manager’s ability to use a coaching approach that unleashes talent and helps team members be the best version of themselves.

The approach is simple: Talk less and ask more. Focus your coaching conversations on nurturing a growth mindset. In short, helping your team members see they have the ability to grow and improve (rather than having to navigate fixed skills and knowledge) is key to them reaching high performance.

Final Thoughts

Evolving performance management to focus on development benefits individuals, teams and organizations. If everyone at the company is focused on achieving goals and growing, engagement, collaboration and innovation will increase — ultimately leading to higher performance and organizational success.

As a manager, what first step can you take today to shift from performance management to performance development?

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